Several of the county’s towns are situated on the Suir, the river most associated with Tipperary. Carrick-on-Suir, Clonmel, Cahir and Thurles all owe their locations to that river, being important crossing or defensive points along the Suir. All four towns were founded or developed by the Butlers, a Norman family who arrived in Ireland in the late 12th century and thanks to huge land grants dominated the region. The Butlers had their main castle in Nenagh, another of their towns, before they re-centred their focus on South Tipperary and Kilkenny. Thurles has a special claim to fame as the place where the GAA was founded in 1884. Tipperary town is on the Ara, a tributary of the Suir but unlike these other towns had nothing to do with the Butlers, and was established by another of these founding Norman families, the Bourkes. In the 19th century, the town had one of the largest butter markets in the world.
Cashel, a short distance from the Suir at Golden, is the most famous of the county’s towns and its ‘Rock’ is one of the most visited sites in the country. In Gaelic Ireland, before the Normans arrived in the late 12th century, the rock of Cashel. a limestone outcrop rising above the surrounding plain, was an important site of political power. In 1101 however, Cashel was handed over the Church, hence the array of ecclesiastical buildings on the site. The most important of these is Cormac’s Chapel, a Romanesque masterpiece built in the 1130s, during the reign of Cormac Mac Carthy. In the middle ages, Cashel the seat of an archbishop was in the hands of the church.
Templemore in the context of the foundation and growth of towns in Tipperary is unusual in that it is a late foundation, being established in the 18th century by a local landlord family, the Cardens. Today the site of the Garda Training College, from the early 19th century, the town was the location of an important military station, Richmond Barracks. In the late 19th century, Tipperary town was also the location of an important military barracks and the famous First World War song ‘It’s A Long Way to Tipperary’ is a reminder of this history.
Roscrea as a trading centre, because of its strategic location, has a long history and a royal castle was built in the early 13th century, usually a focus for urban growth. There are important ecclesiastical sites, such as Monaincha and it may be that the seeds of a town were sown because of the importance of the monastery of St Cronan.
When Tipperary was divided administratively, Clonmel in the south and Nenagh in the north were the most important towns. A unitary authority is unlikely to change this. Clonmel, the largest town in the county has a population of around 18,000, a small part of which edges into county Waterford. Along with Cashel and Fethard, Clonmel retains evidence of its walled status. Famously, in 1650 during the Cromwellian wars, the town was besieged before surrendering to the Parliamentary army. In the context of modern history, Clonmel is forever linked with the Italian-born entrepreneur Charles Bianconi who, in the 1840s, launched a transport revolution from there. ( Ireland’s greatest transport innovators are linked to Tipperary: Bianconi and Tony Ryan.) The Irish Labour Party was founded at a meeting in Clonmel in 1912. Historically Clonmel was in an apple-growing area and Bulmer’s cider factory is today an important source of employment. Nenagh, a smaller town, with a population of around 8,000 was always an important market centre.
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